CSE 271: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues


1. Homework will be graded only roughly, and will not be handed back, because there is no TA; my assessment of homework quality is strongly influenced by how well the concepts in the readings and lectures are used.

2. There will be homework every week. Please hand in hardcopy; do not email me an attachment! Be sure your name, the assignment number, and the due date are clear readable.

3. We may sometimes do problems together in class. For additional feedback on homework, please see me during my office hours.

  1. Due 5 April.
    1. Select two interesting but quite different websites and criticize their design with respect to meeting their goals and values. (Some interesting websites are linked from my "What's Cool" page, e.g., that of Victoria Vesna, or items available by clicking on the walls of Timothy Leary's house-like homepage.) Note that this is a two step process: first infer the goals and values from the context, and then criticize the design.
    2. Discuss Robert Morey's interactive applet proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. In particular, explain why letting the user size the triangle is a good idea. What about the pink smiley faces?
    3. Design a webpage for your work in this course; hand in a print of the page, and a sheet stating your goals for its design. You will be graded on the quality of the design, and to some extent the appropriateness of the goals. Do not include information about solutions to homework problems on this page! Appropriate topics might be comments on readings, questions about content, further details of examples, further references and links, and new examples. You may find the idea of semiotic morphism useful here.
    4. Find at least two inconsistencies in the 1998 CSE 271 class website at the design level - not spelling, syntax, etc.
    5. Do problem 17 of Chapter 1, page 14 of the text.
  2. Due 12 April.
    1. Do problem 3 of Chapter 2, page 32 of the text.
    2. Do problem 4 of Chapter 2, page 32 of the text; also give a brief intuitive description of the source semiotic space for each, i.e., of what is being represented.
    3. Do problem 10 of Chapter 2, page 34 of the text.
    4. Use the "Eight Golden Rules" (pages 74-75 of Shneiderman, handed out in class) as a basis for critiquing the websites that you discussed in questions 1 and 2 of the first week's homework.
  3. Due 19 April. The first four questions below concern the DARPA Information Exploitation Office website (note that the link takes you to just one page of that office, there is much more to be explored by following the links).
    1. Write a one paragraph statement of its goal.
    2. Write an interface guideline capturing its current style. (An interface guideline is a set of principles for the style of an interface, e.g., for a website, or an operating system; it may cover terminology, abbreviations, capitalization, fonts, font sizes, icons, graphics, colors for background, titles, highlighting, menu format, dialog-box format, margins, etc. See pages 100 to 102 in Shneiderman (third edition) for details if you need them. See Usability Guidelines and Checklists for examples.)
    3. Write a brief social impact statement for the site, following the guidelines in Social Impact Statements, by Shneiderman and Rose (a postscript version is also available). (This should be a simple version of what in a real world example could be quite elaborate.)
    4. Explain how social issues and values come into your answer to the question above.
    5. Find at least three syntactic errors in formal code in the first 10 pages of the XHTML appendix of the text.
    6. Write a proposal for your class project. You should start writing the paper as soon as your topic is confirmed. The proposal should be on a separate piece of paper from other homework, and should include your email address, so that we can discuss it quickly and easily. See the class projects page for some suggested topics.
  4. Due 26 April.
    1. Write a semiotic analysis of a small but non-trivial sign, such as the cover of our text, or the original Total Information Awareness Logo, or Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 defeat. Pay particular attention to colors, sizes, backgrounds, fonts, etc. of any text, and to the structuring of this single complex sign as a composition of smaller signs. Point out any instances of iconicity and indexicality. (You might also find it interesting to analyze the DARPA logo.)
    2. In linguistics, mitigation is defined to be any use of language that has the effect of decreasing the impact of a sentence. One important class of mitigation devices are hedges, which are adjectives and/or adverbs that decrease the impact of a noun or verb. Some examples are "sort of", "sometimes", "possibly", "often", "maybe" and "perhaps". Some other mitigation devices are syntactic, such as placing the main content in a subordinate clause. List as many instances of mitigation as you can find in the first paragraph of Section 2.2.5 of Shneiderman (page 60), and then rewrite the paragraph without them. Draw a brief conclusion from this exercise.
    3. Check out Google's answer service, including the homepage, FAQ, Terms of Service, and some sample questions and answers. Relate this to issues about reward discussed in Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective by Mark Ackerman.
    4. Problem 4 of Chapter 4 (page 71) of the text.
    5. Problem 11 of Chapter 5 (page 97) of the text.
    6. If you have no already done so, please hand in your project proposal! It should be on a separte page from the rest of your homework; please include your email address, so we can discuss it quickly and easily. You should carefully read the projects page, and also look at future class notes (in the website for last year's class), because some of the most interesting topics have not yet been covered. You can start writing as soon as your topic is confirmed.
    7. (Optional) Give two real examples of mitigated speech from your own everyday life; give real examples, not imaginary examples.
  5. Due 3 May.
    1. Make as many suggestions as you can for improving the Wireless Questionnaire, using material in the papers Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective and Techniques for Requirements Elicitation.
    2. The ordering of items in the readings and homework pages of an old version of this course was reverse chronological. Use semiotic morphisms (in an informal way) to explain why that was not a good idea - or why it was, if you think it was. Hint: See the first exhibit in the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo.
    3. Describe in some detail how concepts from algebraic semiotics clarify the Principle of Contrast in chapter 5 of our text.
    4. Give two examples of adjacency pairs (in the technical sense!) that you actually observed in ordinary conversation, explain why they are examples, and describe the context in which they occurred. (Hint: See section 6.2.1 of Techniques for Requirements Elicitation. Your answer could be rather brief. Please give real examples, not imaginary ones.)
    5. Explain in some detail how a scrollbar is a semiotic morphism: at least sketch the structure of the source semiotic space, including some sorts, constructors, priorities, and levels. Say what is preserved, and what is not. Explain why. Also, consider also whether scrollbars should be on the right or left side of a window, and should have the same color as the window border (with the unshown part represented by a different shade).
  6. Due 10 May:
    1. Show that the 2 counter theory of time of day in minutes, TOD2C, is isomorphic to TOD; this means that they have exactly the same information content (when interpreted by a human). If f, g are the two semiotic morphisms that give the isomorphism, show that one of them preserves all of the structure in its source, while the other does not; also say which one is which, and what that means intuitively.
    2. Use CSCW ideas to explain the phenomenon computer game players would generally rather have a display of highest scores than computer generated feedback during play.
    3. Describe in some detail (e.g., who, when, where, why) an example of recipient design that you actually observed in your own experience. (Note: this can be brief. Please give a real example, not an imaginary one.)
    4. Do problem 11 of Chapter 5 (page 97) in our text, using the notions of level, priority and semiotic morphism.
    5. Do problem 17 of Chapter 6 (page 121) in our text, using the notions of level, priority and semiotic morphism.
  7. Due 17 May:
    1. Go to Geisel Library at some fairly busy time; spend at least 30 minutes observing social interactions that occur there; take notes; then re-read Providing Social Interaction in the Digital Library and Answer Garden 2: Merging Organizational Memory with Collaborative Help by Mark Ackerman; and finally for your assignment, describe in some detail at least 3 (actually observed) interactions that could not easily be supported by a computer mediated system, and say why they would be difficult to support.
    2. Give an example of a noticeable absence (in its technical sense!) that you actually observed in natural social interaction, explain why it is an example, and describe the context in which it appeared. (Note: this can be brief. Please give a real example, not an imaginary one.)
    3. Describe the structure of the simple narrative in the webpage The Structure of Narrative with a parse tree using the grammar given there. Also describe the semiotic morphism that maps narratives to their Labov structures.
    4. The first version of the popup explanation windows for the semiotic zoo included all the same links as the exhibit pages themselves; however, I soon deleted them. Explain why that was a good idea - or why it wasn't, if you think it wasn't.
    5. Use semiotic morphisms to explain why it is usually better to present a set of weblinks as a broad list rather than as a tree with non-trivial index layering. Describe a case where this usual rule does not work.
    6. (Optional) Do the same as in problem 3 for the story in the Darwin Award Nomination.
    7. (Optional) Give a new item that could be used as an exhibit in the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo; be sure to provide a careful explanation for your exhibit.
  8. Due 26 May:
    Because there is a lot of reading this week, the homework is due on Thursday instead of Tuesday.
    1. Some pages of the 1998 CSE 271 website used "<hr>" to separate links at the bottom of the page, but now "<br>" is used instead (but not before the first link or after the last). Use semiotic morphisms to explain why that is a good idea - or why it isn't, if you think it isn't.
    2. Modify the code in this link as described there; hand in printed copies of your XML source, your XSL source, your DDT source, and the display that is produced. Also follow the other instructions that are given on the linked page. Warning: old browsers may not support XML.
    3. Write a paragraph explaining how Andersen's notion of manifestation can be seen as a semiotic morphism; give a simple example, describe what should be preserved, and say why it should be preserved.
    4. Do problem 4 of Chapter 8 (page 148) in our text.
    5. Do problem 17 of Chapter 9 (page 169) in our text.
    6. (Optional) Use OBJ notation to define the Labov narrative structure defined in The Structure of Narrative, and also the structure of the particular story given there. Describe how semiotic morphisms enter into this situation. (See Formal Notation for Blending.) The OBJ3 Survival Guide may be useful if you are not familiar with OBJ. Source code for OBJ3 version 2.04, and compiled code for Sun workstations, can be obtained by ftp from ftp://www.cs.ucsd.edu/pub/fac/goguen. The latest (June 2000) open source release, OBJ3 version 2.06 or later, cleaned up from version 2.04 (from 1992), engineered by Joseph Kiniry and Sula Ma, and built and supported by Joseph Kiniry; this runs under GCL 2.2.2. You can also get the more recent BOBJ variant of OBJ from the BOBJ ftp site; it is in pure Java, and is upward compatible with OBJ3.
  9. Due 2 June:
    1. Pick 3 "oxymorons" from the list of 50 and explain their oxymoronic meaning as a blend of semiotic morphisms for their two parts. Because these are jokes, they are also supposed to have at least one non-oxymoronic blend; both blends should be explained (if they exist).
    2. Write about one page using semiotics, especially blending, morphisms, and iconicity, to analyze some specific everyday object, such as a favorite coffee mug, couch, or table (see the semiotic methodology in Section 7 of the class notes).
    3. Write a short description of some major actants involved with XML (including potential users and actants in the standards process) and some of the most important relations among them. Draw a graph summarizing your description.
    4. Pick 3 cartoons from the comics section of this week's newspaper, and explain for each how some conceptual space has been recontextualized by adding new information, and show how the resulting new meaning is a blend (give and fill in the most pertinent parts of the blend diagram). Include a copy of the cartoons with your answer.
    5. ... more to come here ...
    6. (Optional) Analyze the humorous reblending in two or more funny signs at embaumsworld or some similar source.
    7. (Optional) Write the other two blends described in the Formal Notation for Conceptual Blending in OBJ, and run the code in order to type check it.
    8. Write an outline of the most important points in this class, with an explaination of the relevance of each one to user interface design.
    Note: Your project is due today (but extensions are allowed if necessary).

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Last modified: Sun Jun 12 19:47:14 PDT 2005